One million pregnant African girls could be blocked from returning to school following Covid -19

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Highlights

  • One million girls face school ban because of pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa 
  • Potential further $10 billion loss in GDP in region if girls lose out on education 
  • Sub-Saharan African countries must prepare for the imminent increase in pregnant students and establish policies that facilitate their re-entry 

SEATTLE (August 24, 2020) — report released today by global aid agency World Vision said as many as one million schoolgirls could be blocked from re-entry to school because they have become pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aftershocks – Access Denied warned that girls who have become pregnant, many because of sexual violence, child marriage and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, will now lose out on future opportunities because policies and practices in some countries across sub-Saharan Africa do not allow pregnant girls or young mothers to continue their education. COVID-19 has forced school closures in 194 countries, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners – over 90% of the world’s school-going population.[i]

“As millions of parents across the world focus on getting their children back into school, up to one million girls across sub-Saharan Africa may not get that opportunity,” explained Isabel Gomes, World Vision’s global director for humanitarian operations. “Extended school closures during a humanitarian crisis can lead to an increased number of child protection risks, including early and forced marriage, sexual violence, and early pregnancy, and too many countries have barriers blocking girls from re-enrolling if this happens.”

Studies conducted during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone showed that girls and young women were twice as likely to become pregnant than before. More than 14,000 teenage girls became pregnant during that time, including 11,000 who were in school prior to the outbreak and met with country-wide bans when they tried to return. [ii] Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more out-of-school children than any other region in the world.[iii] It also has the highest teenage pregnancy rates globally. Policies vary across the region – from outright expulsion of pregnant girls to strategies that support the continued education of adolescent mothers.

“Denying girls their right to attend school means we are faced with a further crisis in girls’ education, unless governments and partners act now. We saw the decision to ban pregnant girls from returning to school after Ebola in Sierra Leone had grave consequences as these girls and their children faced fewer opportunities, greater health and well-being risks, and increased poverty and insecurity, Gomes said.

Sierra Leone lifted its ban on pregnant schoolgirls in March 2020 and is promoting measures that will help ensure girls’ education after the COVID-19 crisis. World Vision warns that with school closures related to COVID-19 threatening to lead to an increase in teenage pregnancy, governments must take Sierra Leone’s lead and take action now.

“A lost education is not only catastrophic to young mothers and their children but also to the economy. If countries fail to ensure the continued education of adolescent mothers, the sub-Saharan African region could see its economy suffer from a further $10 billion loss in GDP after already being crippled by COVID-19, Gomes said.

As part of the global COVID-19 emergency response, World Vision is ensuring that outreach and psychosocial support is available to children and families in order to reduce stress, anxiety and mitigate the likelihood of situations that can put girls in danger of domestic and gender-based violence, early/unintended pregnancies, and child marriage. The NGO is also providing families and teachers with education materials and supporting reading camps to ensure that girls and boys continue to have some form of educational support during lockdown.

“World Vision and other NGOs are doing everything we can to support girls to stay in school, regardless of their circumstances, but we cannot do this alone. Countries must prepare for the imminent increase in pregnant students and establish policies that facilitate their re-entry and continued education. We have a chance to prevent further social and economic shocks as a result of COVID-19Governments must act now before it is too late,” Gomes said.  

About World Vision:
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization conducting relief, development, and advocacy activities in its work with children, families, and their communities in nearly 100 countries to help them reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. For more information, please visit www.WorldVision.org/media-center/ or on Twitter @WorldVisionUSA.